CubaBrief: Good Friday and Passover Reflection on religious freedom in Cuba. Remembering Basilio Guzmán and Bishop Agustin Roman.

Moses leads Hebrews out of slavery.

Today has a powerful significance for both Christians and Jews. On April 15th Passover, also known as Pesach in Hebrew, begins at nightfall. Passover commemorates the liberation of the Hebrews from over two centuries of slavery when Moses led them out of Egypt. It has been celebrated since 1300 BC according to the Book of Exodus in the Bible, and will conclude on April 23rd at nightfall. It is a Jewish celebration of liberation. Today also marks Good Friday, the day that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died in 33 AD. This was the day Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Pope John Paul II on Good Friday, April 10, 1998 at the end of the Via Crucis in Rome gave this powerful reflection on its importance.

“It is now the dead of night. As we contemplate Christ dead on the Cross, our thoughts turn to the countless injustices and sufferings which prolong his passion in every part of the world. I think of the places where man is insulted and humiliated, downtrodden and exploited. In every person suffering from hatred and violence, or rejected by selfishness and indifference, Christ continues to suffer and die. On the faces of those who have been “defeated by life” there appear the features of the face of Christ dying on the Cross. Ave, Crux, spes unica! Today too, from the Cross there springs hope for all.”

Both Passover and Good Friday are part of the religious tradition of most Cubans that speaks to the struggle for freedom both material and spiritual, but a new significance is added following 63 years of communist tyranny and repression. In the Christian Gospels Jesus Christ called on his followers to “take up the cross and follow Me.

Taking up the cross.

On September 17, 1961, Castro regime agents at gunpoint collected 131 priests, brothers and a bishop, placing them on board the Spanish ship Covadonga and deported them from Cuba. Over 300 priests, brothers, and nuns were expelled from Cuba in 1961 alone.

Cuban priests expelled from Cuba at gunpoint on September 17, 1961

Many of the remaining priests and nuns were sent to forced labor camps. The Castro regime declared itself an atheist state in 1962, and openly hostile to religion. Christmas ended as a holiday in Cuba in 1969. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the dictatorship declared itself “secular” and Christmas returned to Cuba in 1997, but restrictions continued.

Judaism was not exempt from religious repression under the Castro dictatorship. Seth J. Frantzman, a Jewish academic based in Jerusalem, following the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016 wrote an analysis of the tyrant’s antisemitism.

“Most Jews fled Cuba when Castro came to power, dwindling from 15,000 to around 1,500 by 2014. Once Castro entered the Soviet orbit the official anti-Zionist and anti-Israel line became common in Cuba, but most writers argue it did not flow over into anti-semitism. Only one anti-semitic incident, stone throwing at a synagogue during the 1973 war, was recorded in decades.”

The attack on the synagogue coincided with Fidel Castro breaking diplomatic relations with Israel on September 10, 1973. The lack of reported antisemitic incidents had more to do with the end of independent civil society and the outlawing of human rights groups under the Castro regime.  Frantzman exposes the duplicity of Fidel Castro in Mosaic in the November 29, 2016 article, “The Truth about Fidel Castro and Anti-Semitism” , highlighting how the Cuban dictator prevented the importation of kosher meat.

In 1994, … [Israel’s chief rabbi] Rabbi Israel Meir Lau attempted to get Castro to allow kosher meat into Cuba. [Israeli diplomat Joel Barromi provided details to  Haaaretz writer Adi Schwartz in a 2006 interview.]  The Cuban leader had initially rejected Lau’s request to bring in kosher meat. “I told you that I am fighting against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in my country…do you want to make my people anti-Semitic,” Castro asked. “We have the practice of allocating 150 grams of bread a day, but the Jews in Cuba would have meat? [The people] will have a horrible hatred for them, envy them tremendously and loot their homes if under such conditions you see to import kosher meat for the Jews, you yourself create the anti-Semitism that I have been stopping.”

This is the example of supposedly stopping anti-semitism, to threaten Jews that if they should want to eat kosher meat that they would “create” anti-semitism. Castro was at first admitting that he had starved his country by putting it on bread rations, but surely Cubans eat some meat. So why would some meat for Jewish people “make” them anti-Semitic?  One wonders whether “envy” for Muslims eating Halal would create the same excuse for Islamophobia just because Muslims celebrate Eid by eating a sheep?  According to articles the same Cuba that feared meat would force people to be anti-semitic, was welcoming to Halal food.

Havana aided, trained, and armed terrorist groups that targeted Israel for destruction. Cuban troops were sent by Castro to the Middle East to fight against Israel, with the Yom Kippur War being a high profile example.

The few Jews remaining in Cuba continue to be subjected to antisemitism.

Olainis Tejada Beltrán, Yeliney Lescaille Prebal and their kids Liusdan Martínez Lescaille, Daniel Moises

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) on December 23, 2019 reported that Liusdan Martínez Lescaille, a twelve year-old Jewish boy was forbidden by Cuban educational authorities from entering his school while wearing a kippah ( also known as a yarmulke) since December 11, 2019 with the result that he has been prevented from continuing his education. His younger brother, Daniel Moises, has also been subjected to the ban and government authorities threatened to open legal proceedings against his parents, jailing them and taking their children away, for “threatening the children’s normal development.” CSW documented that Liusdan was regularly beaten up at school since the family moved to the Nuevitas municipality in 2016, and that the situation worsened in September 2019.

Many Cuban exiles have identified with the Jewish community that until 1948 would say “Next year in Jerusalem,” with their own hopeful lament of “Next year in Havana.”

This week has special significance for Cuban exiles. On April 13, 2022 Cuban exile, former prisoner of conscience and Plantado Basilio Guzmán Marrero passed away after a long illness. He was 84 years old.

On July 10, 2019 Rosa Maria Payá, Sirley Ávila León, Basilio Guzmán, Raudel Bringas, Frank Calzon, Mario Felix Lleonart, Yoaxis Marcheco and others carried out a 25 minute silent vigil to protest 25 years of impunity for 37 July 13, 1994 tugboat victims.

Ten years ago on April 11, 2012 Cuban exiled Bishop Agustín Román died at age 83 in Miami, FL. This anniversary was observed in Miami with religious services and an OpEd by Archbishop Thomas Wenski in El Nuevo Herald.

Bishop Agustín Román (May 5, 1928 – April 11, 2012) at La Ermita

These two Cuban exiles loved Cuba and the Cuban people and wanted them to be free. Both Cubans in the diaspora and on the island understand this, but not some of the so-called Cuba experts in academia.

Canadian Professor Peter McKenna characterizes most Cuban exiles as being “anti-Cuba” because of their opposition to the Castro dictatorship. Professor McKenna’s claim is Orwellian. Thankfully others in the Canadian academy challege this false narrative. Professor Yvon Grenier in his OpEd ”Since when are Cuban exiles anti-Cuba?” published in the Saltwire Network on April 15, 2022 sets the record straight.

In his April 5 opinion piece entitled “Sixty years of a misguided U.S. blockade of Cuba,” Prof. Peter McKenna characterizes many of the 1.3 million Cuban-Americans as being “anti-Cuba.” Do we ever say, by way of comparison, that members of Afghan or Guatemalan exile communities are “anti-Afghanistan” or “anti-Guatemala”? No government is its people — especially when the government is not chosen freely by its citizens.

Opposing the Castro dictatorship is thoroughly pro-Cuba. Bishop Agustín Román in a talk he gave on “The importance of the current internal dissident movement in Cuba” on December 16, 2006 argued love is the driving force to seek change in Cuba.

“If what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, better not do it. If all of us who want the good of the nation, of the important internal dissident movement and the persevering of exile arm ourselves with these virtues, we will be effective. If we are committed to not let personalism, or the passions dilute them, we will have won. If we keep them and transmit them to all our people, we will have secured for Cuba a happy future.”

Basilio Guzmán Marrero, who was jailed for 22 years, and tortured for most of that time in Cuban prisons, refused his whole life to cooperate with evil, and remained committed to a free Cuba. He fought against the dictatorships of Fulgencio Batista, and Fidel Castro. Father Agustin Roman, together with many other clerics, was escorted at gunpoint out of Cuba on September 17, 1961. Neither Basilio or Father Román was “anti-Cuban” but they were profoundly anti-dictatorship and openly hostile to any manifestation of injustice.

On Feb 20, 2020 Cubans gathered outside the Cuban Embassy in Wash DC in a vigil for Orlando Zapata Tamayo who died on hunger strike on 2/23/10 and 4 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down martyrs murdered by the Castro regime on Feb 24, 1996. Basilio Guzmán Marrero held a poster of Mario De La Peña.

There is one authorized biography Pastor, Profeta, Patriarca (Pastor, Prophet, Patriarch) of Bishop Agustín Román, written by Daniel Shoer, a secular Jewish journalist. Shoer described what happened to Father Román after being forcibly deported at gunpoint in a December 27, 2015 article of Rocio Granados in La Voz Catolica.

“Put aboard a ship bound for Spain along with 130 other priests and religious, including the then auxiliary bishop of Havana, Eduardo Boza Masvidal, the transatlantic trek turned into a ‘high seas retreat’ where the religious exiles discerned that their new calling was to be missionaries to the Cuban diaspora.”

In 1966 Father Román arrived in Miami and oversaw the construction of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity on Biscayne Bay that was completed in 1973. Bishop Román told Shoer of the challenge completing it.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to do anything because in this country, you need money to build churches, and what we had were people picking tomatoes, working in the fields, in the factories, and all they could contribute were tarnished pennies.”

“Even more impressive, the shrine was completely paid for when it was built. ‘He said in the countryside (where he grew up) no one used credit,’ Shoer said”, in the December 27, 2015 article “New book tells life story of Bishop Agustín Román ‘Pastor, Prophet, Patriarch’ was authored by Jewish journalist, with bishop’s OK.” In 1979 Father Román became the first Cuban to be appointed a bishop in the U.S.

Basilio would protest the new injustices occurring in Cuba after his release and exile in 1984, the massacre of 37 men, women, and children on July 13, 1994 by Castro agents for trying to leave Cuba on the 13 de Marzo tugboat, the killing of four Brothers to the Rescue members on February 24, 1996 shot down in international airspace, and the killing of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012. These are three of many examples.

During the protests in Cuba in 2021 on July 11th, despite being in poor health Basilio Guzman picketed the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC with denouncing murders of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.

Today it is up to the living to continue their legacy of integrity, love of country, desire for justice and pursuit of freedom for their homeland.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported on April 12, 2022 that Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo was sentenced to eight years in prison in December 2021. His family only learned of the decision last week, in a communication sent by Havana to the United Nations in response to a request for information regarding the pastor’s detention. He has two children. A son, David, aged 18, and a daughter, Lorena, aged 12. “Over the past nine months, He has only been permitted to see them, and his wife Maridilegnis Carballo, in a few fleeting visits to the maximum-security prison where he is currently being held.”  

Lorena, aged 12, David, aged 18, Rev Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, and Maridilegnis Carballo.

“Upon finally learning of her husband’s sentencing, Maridilegnis Carballo told CSW: ‘I don’t know if I can bear so much injustice and so many lies… how painful to see the disgraceful condition of the government of this nation… They know that we are all witnesses to their lies. They no longer even have the shame to hide their lies.’“

 Regime apologists in academia and the pro-Castro lobby describe denouncing these injustices and efforts to cut off support for the secret police and military apparatus that carry them out as being “anti-Cuba.” The stark reality is that those who defend and romanticize the dictatorship are the ones that are “anti-Cuba” assisting a brutal tyranny to destroy an entire people.

On the first night of Passover and Good Friday we remember those, like Basilio Guzmán Marrero and Bishop Agustín Román, who refused to cooperate with evil and endured suffering for the sake of the freedom of the Cuban people. May their courageous lives inspire many more to follow their path.

Saltwire Network, April 15, 2022

YVON GRENIER: Since when are Cuban exiles anti-Cuba?

YVON GRENIER • Guest Opinion

Yvon Grenier is a professor, department of political science and resident fellow, Mulroney Institute of Government, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish

“The government in Havana has to be grateful that every year, so-called anti-Cuba Cuban-Americans (not to mention Cuban-Canadians, Cuban-Spaniards, etc.) send billions of dollars in remittances to their relatives back home,” writes Yvon Grenier. – Reuters

An enduring myth of official propaganda in Cuba is that the ruling party is the nation and “the Revolution.” Opposing the first is tantamount to opposing the other two. Evidently, the point of this lie is to criminalize opposition at home and delegitimize it abroad.

In his April 5 opinion piece entitled “Sixty years of a misguided U.S. blockade of Cuba,” Prof. Peter McKenna characterizes many of the 1.3 million Cuban-Americans as being “anti-Cuba.” 

Do we ever say, by way of comparison, that members of Afghan or Guatemalan exile communities are “anti-Afghanistan” or “anti-Guatemala”? No government is its people — especially when the government is not chosen freely by its citizens.

McKenna also uses the terms “embargo” and “blockade” interchangeably. This is confusing. The U.S. embargo has a long reach (Canada has consistently opposed its extraterritoriality), but as he admits, it does not include food and medicine (or art). The U.S. is one of the biggest exporters of food to Cuba.

While there is admittedly a grey zone between the two types of policies, most scholars talk about embargo rather than blockade (as the Cuban government does), because Cuba can trade with any other country in the world, including Canada. 

About 1,400 companies from some 65 countries attended the annual Havana International Trade Fair in 2019, making it the second-largest trade show in Latin America. Some blockade.

The embargo does hurt the economy, but the biggest impediment to economic prosperity, according to most economists, is what Cubans often call the “internal embargo,” — i.e., the official barriers to economic entrepreneurship. It is hard to trade with other countries when the economy hardly produces anything. (One exception that confirms the rule is the export of health professionals, with the government pocketing up to 90 per cent of their earnings.) The government in Havana has to be grateful that every year, so-called anti-Cuba Cuban-Americans (not to mention Cuban-Canadians, Cuban-Spaniards, etc.) send billions of dollars in remittances to their relatives back home.

https://www.saltwire.com/halifax/opinion/yvon-grenier-since-when-are-cuban-exiles-anti-cuba-100718549/

Center for a Free Cuba, April 13, 2022

Cuban Patriot, Prisoner of Conscience Basilio Guzmán Marrero passed away on April 13, 2022

Center for a Free Cuba statement

Basilio Guzmán with CFC Chairman Guillermo Marmol on July 27, 2021 (Source: Rep. Kevin McCarthy)

Basilio Guzmán Marrero passed away on April 13, 2022 after a long illness.

Basilio was born on April 15, 1937 into a humble family in the countryside of Havana province near Campo Florido. When he was seven years old his family was evicted from their home.

He had fond childhood memories of spending time at Guanabo Beach.

Shortly after Fulgencio Batista overthrew Cuba’s democracy on March 10, 1952, Basilio Guzmán joined the resistance against Batista while still a teenager, and joined the Directorio. He was part of the struggle for a free Cuba.

During these years, he also became a carpenter.

Soon after the revolutionary victory in 1959 he joined with Cubans who felt betrayed by Fidel Castro. They had fought for the restoration of democracy and the 1940 Constitution.

Instead they witnessed the Soviet model imposed in Cuba. Press censored and taken over by the new regime. Forced labor camps modeled after the gulags in the Soviet Union, political show trials and firing squads.

Basilio joined the Frente Nacional Democratico (National Democratic Front) , a resistance movement against Castro.

Basilio’s movement was infiltrated, and he was identified, arrested, and in 1962 jailed. He would spend the next 22 years in a Cuban prison.

He was an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

He was a Plantado, a group of prisoners that refused to take part in any re-education plans, or cooperate with the dictatorship in any way.

Basilio Guzman was freed and exiled in 1984, after 22 years in prison, and flown to the United States along with 25 other Cuban political prisoners with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had petitioned for their release when he visited Cuba.

Pamela Doty, an Amnesty International volunteer who focused on Cuba, met Basilio when he arrived at the airport in Washington, DC in 1984 and they eventually married, and had a daughter together who grew up to be an art historian.

Basilio Guzman resuming his carpentry career in 1985 (Barbara E. Joe)

Over the next 33 years Basilio resumed his vocation in carpentry, and built a successful business in Northern Virginia, but he never forgot Cuba.

Basilio Guzman would take part in public protests against the Castro dictatorship, looked out for other political prisoners, and was a friend to the Center for a Free Cuba board and staff.

Basilio Guzmán Marrero together with Jorge Luis García Pérez, Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez, and Frank Calzon

During the protests in Cuba in 2021 on July 11th, despite being in poor health Basilio Guzman picketed the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC. He held up a large poster with photos of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante that read “Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante: Cuban Dissidents and Human Rights Defenders Murdered by Castro on July 22, 2012.”

Basilio Guzmán Marrero outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC on July 11, 2022.

Basilio published an autobiography in 2020 “DESPUÉS DE LA NOCHE: Mis 22 años en el Presidio Político de Cuba” [ AFTER THE NIGHT: My 22 years in the Political Prisons of Cuba ] and gave an extensive interview about his life to Voces de Cuba in January 2022.

It was an honor and a privilege to have known him and to have witnessed his commitment to a free Cuba.

Requiescat in pace Basilio Guzmán Marrero.

Basilio Guzmán Marrero April 15,1937- April 13, 2022

https://www.cubacenter.org/articles-and-events/2022/4/13/cuban-patriot-prisoner-of-conscience-basilio-guzmn-marrero-passed-away-on-april-13-2022

Babalu Blog, April 12, 2022

Bishop Agustin Roman: Remembering a great leader of the Cuban exile community

April 12, 2022 by Alberto de la Cruz

This April 11 marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Bishop Agustin Roman, who for decades was one of the greatest leaders of the Cuban exile community.

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter remembers Bishop Roman:

Bishop Agustín Román on the Cuban Resistance: Celebrating life and lessons of a good Priest

Ten years ago tonight Cubans lost the physical presence of one of the great leaders of the Cuban exile community who passed away at the age of 83 but his spirit and his writings live on. Bishop Agustín Román wrote and spoke about the challenges facing the Cuban people and in this December 16, 2006 reflection offered an analysis of the state of the Cuban dissident movement that remains extremely relevant a decade after his death. This is an English translation. The original Spanish text is available here.

The importance of the current internal dissident movement in Cuba
by Bishop Agustín Román

INTRODUCTION

Less than a week ago we celebrated the date of December 10, the anniversary of the proclamation by the Organization of the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that is growing in importance over the years, because in it achieved capturing a strong recognition of the dignity of the individual without limitations of race, nationality or belief and without limitations of time and place either, as the same is true for all times and all peoples.

Clearly this being the statement of a secular and supra-confessional organization, there is no religious reference in that statement whatsoever. However, the men of faith and even those without being religious who have followed the development of the human race from its beginnings to the present, it is not difficult to find the source of the underlying principles of human belief about their own dignity and inherent rights in their relationship with God, a god who in almost all major religions demonstrates providence, attentive to the needs of his creatures and possessor of a clear sense of the just.

On the other hand, the important role of the delegation of the Republic of Cuba to the United Nations in 1948 in the drafting and promulgation of the Universal Charter, particularly by Drs. Dihigo Ernesto, Guillermo Belt, and Guy Perez Cisneros are historical fact.

So for me, being Cuban and Catholic, it is an enormous privilege that our beloved and respected Father Felix Varela Foundation, invited me to share with its members and friends some thoughts on the importance of current dissident movement in Cuba, as this issue cannot be properly addressed without relating it directly to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s good, then, do so now, as part of the celebrations for the 58th anniversary of the proclamation and it is urgent to do so also by the special circumstances faced by the Cuban nation in these moments.

Thanks, then, to the Father Felix Varela Foundation to create a favorable atmosphere for this opportunity to carefully and sensibly that we must seize to look carefully at the past and present of our people to learn and understand what is necessary in order that each of us can be a facilitator of a future in which that document becomes an invaluable guide of coexistence among Cubans. If we achieve that, we will be implementing in the field of civic, what the Lord previously synthesized in his new command as a compendium of his doctrine: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Continue reading HERE.

https://babalublog.com/2022/04/12/bishop-agustin-roman-remembering-a-great-leader-of-the-cuban-exile-community/

Freedom of Religion or Belief in full – A blog by CSW, April 12, 2022

Eight years in prison for Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, communicated to his family as an afterthought

Posted on 12/04/2022 by cswpress in Cuba, Latin America

Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo and his wife Maridilegnis Carballo

Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo has two children. A son, David, aged 18, and a daughter, Lorena, aged 12. Over the past nine months, he has only been permitted to see them, and his wife Maridilegnis Carballo, in a few fleeting visits to the maximum-security prison where he is currently being held.  

As it stands, this will remain the reality for Pastor Lorenzo and his family for another eight years. He was sentenced in December, but the family only learned of the decision last week, in a communication sent by the Cuban government to the United Nations in response to a request for information regarding the pastor’s detention. 

The final paragraph of the communication reads, in Spanish, “The trial was held from 20-21 December 2021, during which the accused was convicted of the crimes of ‘public disorder’, ‘criminal incitement’, ‘disrespect’ and ‘assault’, and sentenced to eight years of deprivation of liberty. At the time of writing this response, [the authorities] are in the process of preparing the sentence for its subsequent notification of the parties.” 

A decision that will shape the future of a family for the better part of a decade was communicated to them as something of an afterthought in a letter laden with falsehoods and contradictions. This is the strategy of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) – lies, deceit and secrecy, used to cover up their egregious mistreatment of anyone who questions their supreme authority. 

Upon finally learning of her husband’s sentencing, Maridilegnis Carballo told CSW: “I don’t know if I can bear so much injustice and so many lies… how painful to see the disgraceful condition of the government of this nation… They know that we are all witnesses to their lies. They no longer even have the shame to hide their lies.” 

Pastor Lorenzo was detained on 11 July 2021 amid unprecedented protests which erupted across Cuba in response to a severe economic crisis and a record surge in coronavirus cases, soon expanding to wider criticisms of the CCP’s hold on power, rights violations and management of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Live footage and photos show armed police officers and members of the Black Beret paramilitary force attacking unarmed, peaceful protesters in the middle of the street, with Pastor Lorenzo shown being held in a chokehold. The government denies any allegations of violence against the pastor. 

He was initially held incommunicado, while his son, who was detained with him, was separated from his father and transported in vehicles with blacked out windows. Maridilegnis did not learn of her husband’s whereabouts until 14 July, and David, who arrived home seven days after his detention, is still unsure of where he was held. 

Again, the response from the CCP falsely claims that Maridilegnis was informed of both Pastor Lorenzo and David’s whereabouts within 24 hours of their detention. 

In August, Pastor Lorenzo was transferred to Boniato Maximum Security Prison where he and the other men in the group of transferees were given a violent reception organized by the prison Head of Reduction, Major Edis Nelson. The men were handed over to a group of prisoners who beat and sexually assaulted them. The pastor survived the organised attack and was not sexually assaulted himself, but described it as one of the most terrifying and terrible experiences of his life. 

The CCP response also claims, falsely, that Pastor Lorenzo has had regular visits from his family, but fails to include the fact that Maridilegnis was not permitted to visit him at all until mid-October 2021 and he was arbitrarily denied a scheduled visit with his wife on 28 February in retaliation for his refusal to obey the orders of the prison officials not to share his faith with other prisoners.  

Maridilegnis has been permitted to visit him just twice a month since January, and apart from that their communication has been limited to a few three-minute phone calls.  

The day after she learned of her husband’s sentencing, Maridilegnis added: “Every time I read that response letter, I don’t know how much is going on inside me, how many lies, it hurts me so much. This nation is corrupt to the core; only God will perform a miracle, [the authorities] love and rejoice in evil and injustice. I cling to the promises that God has given us, my Father doesn’t lie, in Him is our trust.” 

Pastor Lorenzo’s continued imprisonment is a grave injustice, and appears likely to be the realisation of a long-held vendetta of the CCP, who first targeted the pastor in 2009 when they arbitrarily confiscated his family’s home which also acted as their church. The same officer who was involved in the confiscation now holds a position in the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and was responsible for the decision to charge and imprison Pastor Lorenzo. His name is Luis Noel Plutin Rodríguez.  

Despite this documented history, the Cuban government’s letter claims that the government has never persecuted the pastor, while in the same paragraph disparaging him for being the pastor of an unrecognised religious group and leading a church out of his home rather than in a church building. 

The way that this case has been handled is unconscionable, as indeed are many involving religious leaders and dissidents in Cuba. As Pastor Lorenzo and his family waited for answers, the Cuban government were busy manufacturing falsehoods in an attempt to mislead the international community.  

The international community must hold the CCP to account for its lies and treatment of Pastor Lorenzo and his family. Those who have rightly raised awareness about the pastor’s case by requesting information from the Cuban government must continue to do so, ensuring they are not mislead by the CCP’s decades-old strategies of deceit. 

By CSW’s Public Affairs Officer Ellis Heasley 

Click here to read a case briefing of Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo (dated October 2021). 

Click here to read CSW’s latest report on freedom of religion or belief in Cuba. 

https://forbinfull.org/2022/04/12/eight-years-in-prison-for-pastor-lorenzo-rosales-fajardo-communicated-to-his-family-as-an-afterthought/

From the archives

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, December 23, 2019

Jewish child beaten and prohibited from wearing kippah to school

23 Dec 2019

A twelve year-old boy has been forbidden by Cuban educational authorities from entering his school while wearing the Jewish kippah since 11 December, with the result that he has been prevented from continuing his education. His younger brother has also been prevented from entering school and the authorities have threatened to open legal proceedings against his parents.

The kippah ban was imposed by Nuevitas Municipal Director of Education, Osdeini Hernández Navarro. It was issued after a government commission found a school guard guilty of failing to protect the boy, Liusdan Martínez Lescaille, who has been beaten by fellow students on a regular basis since the family moved to Nuevitas in 2016. On Friday 20 December US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Cuba has been added to the State Department’s Special Watch List (SWL) for governments that ‘have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.’

According to his parents, Olainis Tejada Beltrán and Yeliney Lescaille Prebal, members of the Sephardic Bnei Anusim community, their son was singled out for ridicule soon after he started classes in September 2019 at the Latin America Urban Basic Secondary School in Nuevitas. Since then he has been subjected to four severe beatings instigated by a classmate who is the son of a military captain, along with other students. Despite multiple complaints by the parents to Martínez Lescaille’s teacher, who is head of the grade and the school director, no action was taken to protect the child.

After Tejada Beltrán publicly denounced the treatment of his son in the independent media, the Cuban educational authorities created a commission to review his son’s situation. However, during this period, he was pressured by school administrators on multiple occasions to retract his complaints. At one point there was at attempt by the school director to expel his son for supposed acts of violence, however, five teachers stepped in to defend Martínez Lescaille and the expulsion did not take place.

On 11 December the commission announced its findings, holding a school guard responsible for failing to stop the attacks on Martínez Lescaille. However, rather than sanctioning the guard, a kippah ban was put in place instead. Tejada Beltrán has called for the ban to be revoked, pointing out that it effectively prohibits his son from entering the school grounds and that there are no other educational alternatives.

On 17 December both Liusdan and his younger brother, Daniel Moises, were prevented from entering school by Hernández Navarro because they continue to wear the kippah. On the afternoon of 18 December municipal prosecutor Ismaray Vidal Marques issued a summons to Tejada Beltrán and Lescaille Prebal to  appear at the prosecutor’s office at 10am the following day.

After complying with the summons the couple were threatened by the authorities who warned that their children would be taken away and the couple imprisoned for ‘threatening the children’s normal development.’

The bullying of children at school because of their religious beliefs or those of their parents is relatively common in Cuba. In 2019 CSW has received a number of cases involving the children of Christian pastors being denied educational opportunities or singled out because their parents hold ‘counter-revolutionary ideas.’ Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife Ayda Expósito are currently serving prison sentences in eastern Cuba because of their decision to homeschool their children after they were the victims of organised bullying including physical assaults at a government run school.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said: “It is unconscionable that a child would be subjected to serious physical assault with no action taken by school officials whose duty it is to protect all children in their care, regardless of their religious beliefs. The fact that the educational authorities in Nuevitas have chosen to punish two children by closing the school doors to them unless they suppress their religious identity, rather than to hold to account those responsible for the attacks on him is illustrative of a more general hostility to religion within the Cuban school system. We welcome the US State Department’s decision to put Cuba on the Special Watchlist for severe violations of religious freedom and call on the Cuban government to immediately take action to allow Liusdan, Daniel Moises, and other children like them who hold strong religious beliefs to continue their education without hindrance. We also call for the authorities to cease their harassment of Mr Tejada Beltrán and Mrs Lescaille Prebal and to drop any legal case against them. Religious discrimination within Cuban schools cannot be permitted to continue.”

https://www.csw.org.uk/2019/12/23/press/4506/article.htm?utm_source=hootsuite_advocacy&utm_term=pr&utm_content=twittercard

Mosaic, November 29, 2016

The Truth about Fidel Castro and Anti-Semitism

In 2010, the late Cuban dictator told an American Jewish journalist that he believed Israel has a right to exist, earning him praise from Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres. Citing the same interview, the American Jewish Committee stated more recently that, despite the Cuban regime’s firm commitment to anti-Zionism and refusal to recognize the Jewish state, “the Castro brothers have not engaged in anti-Semitism.” Seth Frantzman takes a hard look at these claims, which have typified conventional wisdom about Cuba and the Jews:

In 1994, . . . [Israel’s chief rabbi] Israel Meir Lau attempted to get Castro to allow kosher meat into Cuba. . . . The Cuban leader had initially rejected Lau’s request. “I told you that I am fighting against the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in my country. . . . Do you want to make my people anti-Semitic?” Castro asked. “We have the practice of allocating 150 grams of bread a day, but the Jews in Cuba would have meat? [The people] will have a horrible hatred for them, envy them tremendously, and loot their homes if under such conditions you seek to import kosher meat for the Jews. You yourself create the anti-Semitism that I have been stopping.”

This is an example of supposedly stopping anti-Semitism: Castro threatened Jews that if they wanted to eat kosher meat they would “create” anti-Semitism. Castro was admitting that he had starved his country by putting it on bread rations, but surely Cubans eat some meat. So why would kosher meat “make” others anti-Semitic? One wonders whether “envy” for Muslims eating halal meat [which is in fact allowed into Cuba] would create the same excuse for Islamophobia. . . .

The real truth was that Castro wanted to sell himself as being the lone figure who could prevent anti-Semitism, much like many other leaders who claim they are “friends” of the Jewish minority by “preventing” anti-Semitism. But, [in a country where] there are only 1,500 Jews among 11 million people, why would there be any anti-Semitism? Can anyone imagine a leader claiming that if people of color ate meat, racism would therefore be acceptable? . . .

The reality in Cuba was that Jews were deeply suppressed, unable to practice their religion for decades, denied kosher meat, kept from emigrating, and impoverished.

https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/jewish-world/2016/11/the-truth-about-fidel-castro-and-anti-semitism/